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San Mateo County Leads Bay Area Economic Growth

Federal data charting five years’ business growth suggest San Mateo County is the Bay Area’s true economic sweet spot. (Photo of the Facebook campus the month the company moved in, courtesy Flickr and Jitze Couperus.)

By Sharon Simonson

Facebook has had an inordinate effect on the San Mateo County economy. (Facebook headquarters, Dec. 2011, courtesy Fritz Couperus/Flickr.)

For all the debate about the relative economic strength and stature of traditional Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County) versus the new Silicon Valley (including San Francisco), San Mateo County is arguably outrunning both.

Nationally, the information-technology sector is leading economic recovery. Industry payrolls expanded more than 20 percent in the five years ending in 2013, reaching $273 billion a year. Internet and software publishers and data storage and processing companies are growing the fastest.

The Bay Area’s information-technology sector is gaining workers and wealth much faster even than the nation. But perhaps improbably, it is less-populous and -prominent San Mateo County, long squashed between its rivalrous county siblings, that emerges as poster child of swift change. Employment in its IT sector grew nearly 52 percent over five years, and the sector’s payroll almost tripled, expanding from $3.3 billion in 2009 to $11.8 billion in 2013, according to Census Bureau data.

Payroll per employee in San Mateo County’s information sector now exceeds $317,000 a year. That compares to $83,677 nationally and even exceeds Santa Clara County’s heady $211,261 in annual payroll per information-sector worker.

Facebook moved its first employees to Menlo Park in San Mateo County at the end of 2011 and has since built additional offices nearby. In its most recent annual report, the company said it had not quite 9,200 employees worldwide at the end of last year.

As far as the San Francisco-Santa Clara Valley rivalry, the numbers speak for themselves: The information sector remains larger in traditional Silicon Valley and better paid, but it is growing much faster in San Francisco as measured by paid workers, annual payroll and average pay. In one worrisome trend, Santa Clara County is losing software publishers and employees.

Both counties are seeing huge employment gains in data processing, storage and related services as well as Internet publishing and broadcasting, including web search portals.


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